Dear Parishioners, +JMJ
The Pastoral Leadership Team continues slowly to digest the Discipleship Maker Index results – the survey we administered late last winter. In our last meeting we looked at the responses to the question, “The parish helps me connect with a local Catholic community by making me feel welcomed and accepted.” Most respondents agreed. Then there were a small number who answered neither agree nor disagree. Finally, there was a still smaller number that disagreed.
So, we ask ourselves why somebody would disagree with such a question… And we have to be careful to realize there are many reasons a question could be disagreed with. For example, what if a person filling out the survey, reaching this question, thinks to himself, “I’m not here to connect with the community. I’m here to worship God and fulfill my Sunday obligation.” In this case, you see that the respondent really does not have a negative opinion about the community’s hospitality; it’s just that the respondent doesn’t think that the question even applies to his/her purpose for being at the parish.
Another person responding to the question might be thinking, “I have no real social connections outside of church. Therefore, this parish is supposed to meet all of my social needs. But, in fact it does not.” So, the respondent puts down “disagree”.
Or, perhaps a respondent is very reclusive, and he/she really has never accepted invitations by other parishioners to interact. But, he’s not the self-aware enough that he is part of the reason he doesn’t feel welcomed. So, he answers the question negatively.
I could fill pages with such potential scenarios, trying to imagine why somebody responded to the question the way he/she did. The point is, we don’t know exactly how people read the questions, nor why they respond positively or negatively. Still, the results give us some indication about parish life. And we try to understand.
Seeing that some people disagreed with the idea that the parish community makes them feel welcomed, one can’t help but think that we could all benefit from a reminder to engage those people around us whom we do not know. It seems the best place to do this is right after the Mass ends. You see somebody right next to you, or in the pew ahead or behind… somebody you don’t know, and you reach out to them. “I’m sorry, I don’t I know you. My name is…. I know with with three campuses, you can see somebody who is actually a longtime parishioner, but they seem new if they show up at a different campus on occasion.” At this point, the person to whom you reached out could admit that he or she is new, and give you his/her name. Or the person could let you know that he/she has been a member of the parish for years, but usually goes to another campus. Then there’s the exchange of, “It’s great to make your acquaintance!” Or “It’s very nice to meet you!”
Here’s a story I hope can never be told about our parish: a woman once told me that because of the location of her work she sometimes went to daily Mass at a parish other than her own. There were not many people at daily Mass, so anybody who was a member of that other parish community would have realized that this woman was new to the parish. The woman told me, however, that it actually took many months for anybody to walk up and acknowledge her as a guest. On the positive side, I know of people who have been drawn into a parish because parishioners reached out to them at the Mass where they were guests.
Hospitality is a virtue that is significant in God’s eyes. By it we welcome the stranger. By it, we welcome Jesus himself in that newcomer! If you notice someone near you at a Mass whom you do not know, please consider taking a couple extra minutes at the end of Mass to engage that person, to ask if they have found everything they need, and express to them how good it is that they are here at the parish. Our ushers and greeters at every Mass have a particular responsibility to make our Masses hospitable. But, in very simple ways, each one of us can do our part, so that nobody ever can say that they do not feel welcomed at our parish.
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,